The Americans were not too pleased this week when the news that a Chinese observation balloon was hovering over Montana became public. Why Montana in particular? Well, completely coincidentally of course, that’s where there is a concentration of US intercontinental ballistic missiles nestling in their silos.
Typically, having been discovered, the Chinese tried to brush it off as one of their weather-monitoring meteorological balloons which had gone astray. But they would say that, wouldn’t they? According to US sources this is hardly the first time that they’re seen such an incursion into their airspace, just the first one that’s been made public.
It’s fairly well known that all nations spy on each other via satellites, so the question has been asked why the Chinese would use a balloon when they can see most of what’s going on in North American anyway. Well, there may be two reasons I can think of. The first is that satellite coverage may not be comprehensive, and balloons could be filling in the gaps in their ground surveillance.
The other reason might be that balloons operate at a much lower altitude than satellites do, maybe 60-80,000 feet compared to 200 miles up, and that if kitted out correctly they may be able to collect much more detailed information. I don’t know to be honest.
What did the Americans do about this incursion into their airspace? Why, they shot it down of course, but only after it was over US territorial waters and the risk to life and property was minimal. An F-22 Raptor fighter jet brought it down with a Sidewinder air to air missile at about 60-65,000 feet and it landed into water only 47 feet deep.
The USA will now recover what remains of the balloon and do a forensic investigation of its surveillance equipment. It has also been revealed that a similar Chinese balloon is also operating over Latin America at the moment, so it will be interesting to see how those countries in its predicted flight path will react.
Finally, it was Biden’s decision to take the balloon down. But an anonymous official revealed that there had been similar incursions into US air space under the previou
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